Notable Releases of the Week (11/22)
This is a really weird week for new music! Thanksgiving is around the corner, some best of 2019 lists are already out, but this week is surprisingly kind of stacked. It’s one of those weeks where tons of huge artists have new albums out, yet one of the most hyped albums of the week is one by a small death metal band from Denver. I talk about seven of these albums in Notable Releases this week. Find out which ones below.
Also, some honorable mentions: The Grateful Dead’s album of previously unreleased live recordings from their ’90s era of then-new songs that might have made up the band’s final studio album, Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion 10th anniversary live album, the “lost” Harry Nilsson album from 1994, Omar Souleyman, Lord Mantis, Girl Ray (which you can read more about in Bill’s Indie Basement), Anna Flyaway (pre-Empire! Empire!), Child Bite, Sondra Sun-Odeon, Woolen Men, Dev Hynes’ (Blood Orange) score for Queen & Slim, the Tom Waits tribute album (with Phoebe Bridgers, Aimee Mann, Iris Dement, Corinne Bailey Rae, Courtney Marie Andrews, and more), the Hanukkah+ compilation (ft. Yo La Tengo, Flaming Lips, Jack Black, Haim, and more), and the Caroline Says EP.
Read on for my seven picks. What was your favorite release of the week?
When Leonard Cohen released his genuinely great 2016 album You Want It Darker, we thought it was an album he wrote knowing it’d be his last, as he passed away shortly after its release and he had said he’s “ready to die” just before it came out. But what we didn’t know, is that it actually wasn’t his last. He had been working on another album before he passed, and he asked his son Adam Cohen (who produced You Want It Darker) to see it to completion after he passed away. Adam enlisted in the help of Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, The National’s Bryce Dessner, s t a r g a z e, Feist, Damien Rice, Beck, Daniel Lanois, Patrick Watson, Leonard’s former bandmate Javier Mas, and others to help him flesh it out, and the result is Thanks For The Dance. Even though Leonard’s team is referring to it as “not a commemorative collection of B sides and outtakes, but an unexpected harvest of new songs, exciting and vital, a continuation of the master’s final work,” I had fears that a posthumous album with tons of guests would feel too far removed from a true Leonard Cohen album, but it turns out “a continuation of the master’s final work” is exactly the right description for this album. Even with all those guest musicians, Leonard’s voice and words lead the way on every song. Thanks for the Dance sounds like something Leonard must have already envisioned as a complete, cohesive album, and he just needed Adam to get the right people to help put the finishing touches on it. Like You Want It Darker, it finds Leonard at his most ominous and eerie, but it is clearly its own beast compared to that album, not leftovers from the Darker sessions. It is truly not everyday that we get this kind of posthumous album, and it’s only more amazing that this one comes from a lifelong legend like Leonard Cohen, who never stopped writing impassioned music, all the way up until his death at age 82.
Even before its release today, Denver death metal band Blood Incantation’s sophomore album Hidden History of the Human Race has been the most hyped metal album of 2019, both within and outside of metal circles. Metal mag Decibel already named it the best album of the year (after naming their 2016 debut album Starspawn the third best album of 2016, and their other band Spectral Voice’s 2017 debut album the sixth best album of 2017), its lead single “Inner Paths (to Outer Space)” was the only metal song to get Best New Track on Pitchfork this year, it’s one of just a few metal albums to be granted Album of the Week by Stereogum this year, and if you read metal blogs or Metal Twitter or just talk to any in-the-know metalheads, you’ve probably been hearing a lot of good things about this album for a pretty long time. I like it — I like how they branch out from death metal and incorporate very trippy psychedelia (like on the aforementioned “Inner Paths [to Outer Space]”), post-rock (like on the 18-minute album closer “Awakening from the Dream…[Mirror of the Soul]”), and prog — but it’s a little outside of my personal wheelhouse and I couldn’t write a review as great and as in-depth as Langdon Hickman did for our metal site Invisible Oranges, so read his HERE.
Though the Blood Incantation is clearly the most talked-about metal album of the week, I’d like to direct any heavy music fans towards the new Obsequiae as well. True metalheads are probably already hip to this one (like Blood Incantation, it’s a followup to an acclaimed album, and it’s already on Decibel‘s 2019 list), but I also think this is one that the metal-curious shouldn’t sleep on. It’s one of the most accessible metal albums I’ve heard all year — the vocals are primarily harshly screamed, but the guitars spend the entirety of the record dishing out bright, addictive melodies that should catch the ear of anyone who appreciates good melodic songwriting, metal or otherwise. It gets referred to as “castle metal,” which is a phrase I’m not super familiar with but which seems to be more of a lyrical descriptor than a genre name based on sound. The Palms of Sorrowed Kings does have some harp interludes that might put you in a medieval mindset, but the lyrics are mostly indiscernible, so without a lyric sheet you wouldn’t really know whether these songs are about castles or not. And, at least for me, that aspect doesn’t really affect how I think about the album when I’m listening to it. It’s just a great black metal album with some folk music tendencies and an album’s worth of some of the catchiest riffs I’ve heard all year.
Tinashe has been a very fun artist to follow this decade. After leaving her pop girl group The Stunners, she embraced the burgeoning “alt-R&B” movement with her early independent mixtapes, then inked a major label deal as a solo artist and released Aquarius, which remains one of the key documents of 2010s R&B. She proved on her 2015 mixtape Amethyst mixtape and on her 2016 online-only album Nightride that she wanted to continue embracing the “alt” side of “alt-R&B,” but reports of label struggles and the radio-baiting 2018 album Joyride seemed to suggest RCA wanted her to go in a more marketable direction. Well, she finally split with RCA for good and Songs For You is her first self-released album, and it sounds like the album she always wanted to make. Not that any of it is inaccessible, but there’s none of the phoned-in all-star guest verses or Jingle Ball-friendly production of Joyride. It’s all Tinashe in her comfort zone, and it proves that Tinashe’s comfort zone is a little more musically diverse than you might have expected. It’s got songs cut from the same atmospheric R&B cloth as her most-loved singles; but on “Hopscotch,” “Cash Race,” and “Link Up” she’s basically rapping (and she’s good at it); on “Stormy Weather,” “Save Room For Us,” and lead single “Die A Little Bit,” she’s successfully navigating clubby dance beats; and with “Remember When” she pulls off an acoustic song without sounding too sappy. The new clubby direction is probably my favorite part of Songs For You, but I think my favorite song is one that combines a lot of her strengths: “Perfect Crime.” It’s got a bubbly, bassy, pop-house beat that you could picture coming from SBTRKT or Disclosure (it actually comes from Wax Motif and Styalz Fuego), but unlike some of the other dance-club-friendly songs, Tinashe’s R&B/pop hooks steal the show on this one as much as they do on her big hits like “2 On” and “All Hands On Deck.” It doesn’t sound like those songs, but that’s a good thing. Plenty of Tinashe’s former peers have disappeared or gotten stuck on rehashing the same sound, but Tinashe is clearly still moving forward.
Coldplay are back with Everyday Life, which is a double album and which they’ve been calling a “more experimental” album. Cue the eyerolls and the snark and whatever else accompanies a new Coldplay album in the year 2019, but before you fully write off Everyday Life, you should probably know it’s the most appealing Coldplay album in a long time. Following nearly a decade of albums that included forays into EDM, duets with pop superstars, and collaborations with big-name pop producers, Coldplay finally seem like they’re done trying to follow the mainstream pop trends that they were never going to fit in with. Everyday Life is the most Coldplay-sounding Coldplay album since 2008’s Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, and the best one since then too. This time, there are almost no mainstream pop collaborators (except co-production on two songs by Max Martin, including the lead single “Orphans” which is the one song on the album you might mistake for like Imagine Dragons or something, and which was a red herring of a lead single), and instead there are some pretty interesting collaborators from all over the world. I hate to use the term “world music,” but that seems to be what Coldplay were going for on this album, and they did so by bringing in Palestinian musicians and African musicians (including triumphant horns from Femi Kuti on album highlight “Arabesque”), quoting Iranian poet Saadi Shirazi, sampling Alice Coltrane, and working in gospel music, church hymns, folk-blues, and more. Some it probably veers towards cultural appropriation but it seems like there’s a lot of cultural appreciation at play too, especially since this sure-to-be-popular album is shining a spotlight on all these different musicians. Maybe all this is what they meant by “more experimental,” but actually “experimental” is not a word I would use to describe this album. It’s pretty accessible and easy to listen to in the way that Coldplay’s 2000s albums were accessible and easy to listen to. Songs like “Daddy” and “Eko” and “Old Friends” are clearly from the same band who gave us “Yellow” and “Trouble,” and if you miss that Coldplay, you might wanna hear this record. It can be hit or miss, but it reminds me of the days when Coldplay were a respectable, inoffensive mainstream rock band, not yet a total punchline. So, that’s something, right?
So not only is there a new Leonard Cohen album out today with Beck on it, and a new Coldplay album, there’s a new Beck album featuring a song with Coldplay’s Chris Martin (“Stratosphere”). And like that Coldplay album, this album finds Beck following up a way-too-radio-friendly album (2017’s Colors) with a way more appealing album. Beck did make this one with a guy who knows a thing or two about radio dominance, Pharrell (who co-wrote and co-produced seven of the 11 tracks), but Pharrell actually pushed Beck away from that stuff. “I was not expecting the songs to come out how they did,” Beck told NME. “I was going in thinking of songs like ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’, y’know? [Pharrell] felt very strongly that spending a little time with me, that ‘You need to be doing singer-songwriter type of songs’.” I don’t know if I’d necessarily call Hyperspace “singer-songwriter type of songs” — maybe at their very deepest core — but it’s mostly an atmospheric, psychedelic pop album that sounds more like it was produced by Dave Fridmann than by Pharrell. There’s still some of the quirky, acoustic-folk-indie-hip-hop stuff that you think of when you think of Beck, but songs like “Dark Places,” “Stratosphere,” and “See Through” should do a good job of tiding you over for that long-awaited Tame Impala album. Beck’s done psychedelic stuff before (“Cold Brains,” “Chemtrails,” etc), but never quite like this, and I for one am a fan of this new direction.
Billy — excuse me, William Patrick — Corgan basically calls all the shots in The Smashing Pumpkins anyway, so these days when he goes solo, he really goes solo. He had that electro-rock solo album TheFutureEmbrace back in ’05, but when he returned to his solo career 12 years later with 2017’s Ogilala, it was all solo acoustic songs and piano ballads, with maybe a hint of orchestral backing here and there. Cotillions follows a similar path, only this time he’s embracing a twangier side than ever. This one’s got piano stuff too, but it’s more acoustic-guitar-heavy than Ogilala, and its secret weapon is the heavy use of fiddle on several of these songs. This is basically Billy making his version of a folk/country/Americana album, and at this point in his career, it’s more exciting to hear him do this than rehash ’90s Smashing Pumpkins songs. At 17 songs that all sound extremely similar, it’s a little too long, but there isn’t any obvious filler. And despite its length, it’s one of the few times in his career that he didn’t make a lofty, ambitious album. It turns out Billy Corgan can be pretty good when he reels it in, too.